Setting the stage for a classic

ST. LOUIS -- OK, so that's the way baseball go, as Rangers manager Ron Washington has said.

That's right, the World Series is headed to a Game 7 on Friday night.

Josh Hamilton hits a fastball to the Gateway Arch in the 10th inning but trips over the Rally Squirrel before he can touch home plate? Tony La Russa tells Derek Lilliquist to bring in closer Jason Motte, but the call to the bullpen somehow gets connected to that USA Prime Credit call center in Siberia, so Bearded Peggy blows the lead instead? Or perhaps Albert Pujols merely hits three more home runs, literally knocking the cover off the ball with the first, shattering the clock with the second and exploding the light towers into fireworks with the third, then rides off into the sunset on a Budweiser Clydesdale with Glenn Close?

I don't know. All I know is that in addition to the usual drinks and nachos, you'd better stock up on the defibrillators and oxygen tanks. If Game 7 is anything like the previous six this series, you'll need all that, and probably a pair of Depends.

"This has been the Series for the ages," Texas reliever Mike Adams said. "People who have been watching this Series have gotten nothing less than spectacular baseball. And I'm pretty sure Game 7 will be the same way. It will be intense -- and if you're a baseball fan, it's going to be a good night."

Indeed, this series has had so many amazing, magical moments already, Game 7 should be played in an Iowa cornfield with James Earl Jones providing play-by-play. We've had the Rangers' thrilling ninth-inning comeback in Game 2. Pujols' historic three-homer Game 3. Derek Holland's pitching gem in Game 4. The bizarre bullpen snafu in Game 5. And, of course, the dramatic, draining, heart-stopping, cuticle-devouring, screen-kicking, fist-pumping, Twitter-trending Game 6 that will be remembered for decades.

"This game alone had everything," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said after Game 6. "It had home runs. It had big hits. It had errors. It had great defensive plays. What wasn't there in this game? And what hasn't there been in this series? So the only thing left in this series is a champion and a trophy."

Obviously, the players don't care how Game 7 goes, as long as their team wins -- "I hope we win 9-0," Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson said, adding the series has been too draining to take another one-run game. He's wrong about that. Regardless of who wins, after the drama of the past month (beginning with that sublime regular-season-ending night), fans and the game itself deserve another autumn classic.

And as delicious as this series has been, to rank with the greatest World Series of all time requires a great Game 7 and an all-time moment such as Minnesota's Jack Morris stomping to the mound for his 10th scoreless inning in 1991, Arizona's Luis Gonzalez lifting a single off Mariano Rivera or Fred Snodgrass dropping a popup in the 10th inning.

Here's the competition 2011 faces for the greatest World Series of all time:

1991, Twins beat Atlanta: After both teams had gone from last place to first place, their series had five games decided by one run and three go extra innings. Kirby Puckett won Game 6 with a spectacular catch and walk-off home run. Morris threw a 1-0, 10-inning shutout in Game 7 just miles from his boyhood home.

1975, Reds beat Red Sox: Five games decided by one run and two extra-inning games. Controversial Ed Armbrister play still angers Red Sox fans. Carlton Fisk waved his walk-off home run fair to win Game 6 (after three consecutive rainouts). Big Red Machine rallied to win Game 7 and cause Boston fans' well-documented grief.

1912, Red Sox beat Giants: In Fenway Park's inaugural season, Boston and Giants played five one-run games, two extra-inning games and one tie (what, was Bud Selig commissioner then?). Game 8 ended in 10th inning with Christy Mathewson on the mound after Snodgrass' infamous error.

2001, Diamondbacks beat Yankees: Four games decided by one run, two extra-inning games, and President Bush threw an inspiring strike weeks after 9/11. Derek Jeter hit a walk-off home run to inspire "Mr. November" headlines. Curt Schilling delivered classic "mystique and aura" one-liner. Randy Johnson won Game 6 blowout, then pitched in relief in Game 7, which Gonzalez won with single off Rivera.

1924, Senators beat Giants: Four games decided by one run and two extra-inning games, including Game 7, which aging Walter Johnson won with four innings of relief when rookie Earl McNeely hit walk-off double.

1972, Athletics beat Reds: The Athletics and their mustaches won first of three consecutive World Series, with six games decided by one run, including Game 7.

How will this series rank after Friday night? Well, it probably would help if the two teams avoid committing five more errors and throwing two more wild pitches. But then again, none of that ruined the drama of Game 6. In fact, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was so overwhelmed by Game 6 that afterward he wasn't sure who he was going to start in Game 7. "Maybe I'll roll out Jake Westbrook again," he joked.

At least I think he was joking, but given that La Russa used just about every Cardinal except Red Schoendienst in Game 6, who knows? Pitching Game 5 starter Chris Carpenter on three days' rest is a strong possibility, though.

The Rangers will start lefty Matt Harrison, who gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings in the only blowout of the series. Harrison allowed two runs in five-inning starts in both the division series and ALCS, so Washington will be prepared to go to the bullpen early. Alexi Ogando was terrific in the ALCS but he may not be the best choice given that he has allowed an astounding 14 baserunners and retired only six batters (with one pickoff).

Wilson started Games 1 and 5 but said he'll be ready to go as many innings in relief as needed. "I know what my strengths are against which guys and where to throw the balls," he said. "It's just a matter of executing."

This will be the 179th game of the season for the Rangers and the 180th for the Cardinals (not including spring training), so it's not surprising that Ogando -- or anyone else, for that matter -- might be running on fumes. Everyone is tired and aching at this stage, but there are some particular injury issues to watch.

St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday left Game 6 with a severely bruised right pinkie finger and La Russa said he is unlikely to play. Given that Holliday made two blunders in Game 6 and is batting just .158, Cardinals fans can decide how much his absence would affect the lineup.

Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz left Game 6 with a sore groin but said he will be able to play Game 7. He's hitting only .238 but he has hit two home runs this series (including one in Game 6) and eight since the ALCS began, so the Rangers need him in the lineup. Texas also would like to see catcher Mike Napoli -- who has two home runs and 10 RBIs -- continue this series before his body crumbles into a thousand parts. He jammed his left ankle running into second in the fourth inning but stayed in and played the rest of the game. Washington said his catcher is fine.

The Rangers suffered a devastating loss in Game 6 when they blew two-run leads in the ninth AND 10th. And the record for teams leading 3-2 in the series but losing Game 6 is not good. Of the seven teams that lost Game 6 on the road since 1979, all seven lost Game 7 as well. So that bodes well for the Cardinals.

On the other hand, the Rangers haven't lost two consecutive games since Aug. 25. So that bodes well for Texas.

Carpenter is a better pitcher than Harrison, so that bodes well for St. Louis. But Carpenter would be pitching on three days' rest and he stunk the last time he did that, so that bodes well for Texas.

So basically, picking a favorite before the game is foolish. Which bodes well for fans. Friday Night Lights belong to baseball. It's Game 7 of the World Series. Someone will win. Someone will lose. Someone will be a hero. Someone will be a goat. Someone will fulfill a lifelong dream. And someone will endure something much different.

"By the way, when you're a little kid and you're out there, you don't have a bunch of reporters and fans that are ready to call you a choking dog if you don't come through," Lance Berkman warned. "So when you're a kid, you don't realize what a big moment that is. I'm just going to caution all little kids out there: Be careful what you wish for."

Hmmm. Maybe you should make it two pairs of Depends on Friday night.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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